WORST SUMMER EVER.
That’s the thought I went over the side with. Not I’m falling. Not I just shoved my brother off the Cliffs of Moher. Not even My aunt is going to kill me for ruining her big day. Just Worst summer ever.
You could say that my priorities weren’t in the best shape. And by the bottom of the hill, neither was I.
When I finally rolled to a stop, my designer dress and I had been through at least ten mud puddles, and I was lying in something definitely livestock-related. But cow pies weren’t the worst of it. Somewhere along the way I’d hit something—hard—and my lungs were frantically trying to remember what they were supposed to do. Inhale, I begged them. Just inhale.
Finally, I got a breath. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to slow down and breathe in and out to the count of five like I do whenever I get the wind knocked out of me, which is way more often than the average person.
I have what my soccer coach calls the aggression factor. Meaning, whenever we arrive at a school where the players look like Attila the Hun in ponytails, I know I’ll be playing the whole game. Getting the wind knocked out of me is kind of a specialty of mine. It’s just that usually when it happens, I’m wearing soccer cleats and a jersey, not lipstick and designer heels.
Where’s Ian? I rolled to my side, searching for my brother. Like me, he was on his back, his navy-blue jacket half-off, head pointed down the hill toward all the tourist megabuses in the parking lot. But unlike me, he wasn’t moving.
No. I sprang to my knees, panic filming over my vision. My high heels impaled the hem of my dress, and I struggled to untangle myself, scenes from the cheesy CPR movie they made us watch in health class firing through my head. Did I start with mouth to mouth? Chest compressions? Why hadn’t I paid attention in health class?
I was about to fling myself at him when his eyes suddenly snapped open.
“Ian?” I whispered.
“Wow,” he said wearily, squinting up at the clouds as he wiggled one arm, then the other.
I fell back into a relieved heap, tears spiking my eyes. I may have shoved my brother off the side of a mountain, but I hadn’t killed him. That had to count for something.
“Keep moving; eyes up here.” I froze. The voice was British and much too close. “Hag’s Head is a bit farther. Ooh, and look, there’s a wedding going on up top. Everyone see the lovely bride? And . . . oh, my. I think she lost a bridesmaid. A tiny lavender bridesmaid. Hellooooo there, tiny lavender bridesmaid. Are you all right? Looks like you’ve had a fall.”
I whipped around, my body tensed to unleash on whoever had just dubbed me “tiny lavender bridesmaid,” but what I saw made me wish I was even tinier. Not only had Ian and I landed a lot closer to the walkway than I’d realized, but a tour guide sporting a cherry-red poncho and a wide-brimmed hat was leading a pack of enraptured tourists right past us. Except none of them were looking at the sweeping landscape or the lovely bride, who happened to be my aunt Mel. They were looking at me. All thirty of them.
You’d think they’d never seen a midwedding fistfight before.
Act in control.
I straightened up, shoving my skirt down. “Just a little tumble,” I said brightly. Yikes. “Tumble” was not a typical part of my vocabulary. And whose robotic happy voice was coming out of my mouth?
The tour guide pointed her umbrella at me. “Did you really just fall down that big hill?”
“Looks like it,” I said brightly, the thing I actually wanted to say brimming under the surface. No. I’m just taking a nap in a manure-coated dress. I shifted my eyes to Ian. He appeared to be playing dead. Convenient.
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
This time I injected my voice with a heavy dose of now please go away. “I’m sure.”
It worked. The guide scowled at me for a moment and then lifted her umbrella, making clucking noises to the group, who begrudgingly shuffled forward like a giant, single-brained centipede. At least that was done with.
“You could have helped me out with the tour group,” I called to Ian’s motionless form.
He didn’t respond. Typical. These days, unless he was cajoling me to come clean to our parents about what had happened this summer, he barely looked at me. Not that I could blame him. I could barely look at me, and I was the one who’d messed up in the first place.
A raindrop speckled down on me. Then another. Really? Now? I shot a reproachful look at the sky and pulled my elbow in next to my face, cradling my head in my arm as I assessed my options. Apart from seeking shelter in one of the souvenir shops built into the hills like hobbit holes, my only other choice was to hike back up to the wedding party, which included my mother, whose rage was already sweeping the countryside. There was absolutely no way I was going to put myself in the line of fire before I had to.
I listened to the waves smash violently against the cliffs, the wind carrying a few snippets of voices over the top of the hill like the butterfly confetti we’d all thrown a few minutes earlier:
Did you see that?
Are they okay?
“I’m not okay!” I yelled, the wind swallowing up my words. I hadn’t been okay for exactly one week and three days, which was when Cubby Jones—the boy I’d been sneaking out with all summer, the boy I had been in love with for what amounted to my entire teen life—had decided to crush my heart into a fine powder and then sprinkle it out over the entire football team. Ian’s football team. No wonder he couldn’t stand to look at me.
So no. I was most definitely not okay. And I wasn’t going to be okay for a very, very long time.
The Wild Atlantic Way
Me again, buttercup. Here to give you an extraordinarily important tip as you enter the planning phase of your journey. Read carefully, because this is one of the few hard-and-fast rules you will find in this entire book. You listening? Here goes. As a first-time visitor to Ireland, do not, under any circumstances, begin your trip in the capital city of Dublin.
I know that sounds harsh. I know there’s a killer deal to Dublin on that travel website you’ve been circling like a vulture all week, but hear me out. There are a great many reasons to heed my advice, the main one being this:
Dublin is seductive as hell.
I know what you’re going to do next, sugar. You’re going to argue with me that there isn’t anything particularly seductive about hell, to which I would counter that it’s an excellent place to meet interesting people, and those fiery lakes? Perfect for soaking away stress.
But let’s not get sidetracked.
Bottom line, Dublin is a vacuum cleaner and you are one half of your favorite pair of dangly earrings—the one you’ve been missing since New Year’s. If you get too close to that city, it will suck you up and there will be no hope for unmangled survival. Do I sound like I’m being overly dramatic? Good. Have I used one too many metaphors? Excellent. Because Dublin is dramatic and worthy of metaphor overuse. It’s full of interesting museums, and statues with hilariously inappropriate nicknames, and pubs spewing out some of the best music on earth. Everywhere you go, you’ll see things you want to do and see and taste.
And therein lies the problem.
Many a well-intentioned traveler has shown up in Dublin with plans to spend a casual day or two before turning their attention to the rest of Ireland. And many a well-intentioned traveler has found themselves, a week later, on their ninetieth lap of Temple Bar, two leprechaun snow globes and a bag full of overpriced T-shirts the only things they have to show for it.